Every Tuesday we post something about strengthening or rebuilding marriages. Hope it helps.
Business as Usual
Someone to hold you too close
Someone to know you too well
Someone to sit in your chair
And ruin your sleep
And make you aware
Of being alive
-“Being Alive” by Stephen Sondheim
I got an education from my wife and son last Saturday on the subject of predictability. We were gathered around the kitchen counter when I started to sneeze, and between my ‘ah-choos’ I noticed Renee counting out loud. I finished sneezing and she said “one more.”
“You sneeze in fives. That was only four. Here it comes.”
“Now you’re done.” She said it so matter-of-factly, I realized she wasn’t even teasing me. Jeremy reached for some cereal; Renee turned back to her coffee. I wasn’t pleased.
“Am I predictable?”
I don’t think wives or kids respect their Old Man’s sensitivities. If a mother asked that question she’d get buckets of reassurance about how fascinating and full of surprises she was, but Dad? No mercy.
“Oh, Joseph”, Renee sighed, as though I’d just asked if penguins waddle. Jeremy rolled his eyes, which never means I’m here for ya, Dad.
“I used to be interesting” I moaned, deflated. “People said so.”
“I know, Dad. You used to have hair, too. And abs. I’ve seen the old pictures.” I loathe teenagers.
“You still are interesting, Joseph”, Renee purred, “but in a more predictable way, that’s all.”
“I don’t want to be predictable. It sounds old and boring.”
“If you don’t want to be predictable, Dad, then don’t eat half my cereal the day after it was bought”, Jeremy advised, waving the evidence at me.
“And don’t rip boxes open like a hungry bear, Honey. Follow the dotted lines.
“And don’t say ‘Well, blast it, I paid for it!’ when I ask what happened to my cereal.”
I had just opened my mouth to say Well blast it I paid for it. I rescinded, growling quietly instead.
“And don’t growl,” they said in charming unison.
I get it, really. Spouses can’t help but become predictable to their partners, and I don’t know if I like it. I miss being unpredictable and crazy. Like when I was dating Renee and showed up at her workplace in full black tux, roses in hand, limo waiting outside to whisk us off to the surprise 30th birthday party I’d put together. Or when I got her roommate’s permission to sneak into their home at 4am with a strong cup of black coffee and the engagement ring I’d bought earlier that week. I was exciting then, an interesting man unashamed of his quirks and spontaneity. Now even my sneezes are quantified. Losing the surprise element is a bit like losing the abs and the hair – inevitable, expected, but never celebrated.
But with predictability comes a measure of safety, and the longer I work with husbands who’ve strayed, the more I realize safety’s value. It is, in fact, a primary reason people marry. We want at least one safe person in whom we can confide, on whom we can lean, and who, in general, we trust. In the marriage partnership that can’t be overrated. One of the commonest complaints I hear from wives is that they’ve lost trust, which is akin to losing everything. His word doesn’t carry weight anymore, she’s no longer confident he’ll decide wisely, the safety’s gone. Predictable may at times be boring, boring enough to put a wife to sleep. But it sure won’t keep her awake worrying the way mistrust does.
So when husbands ask what they can do to restore a marriage damaged by sexual sin, I say “Make her safe. Put boundaries around your life and home that are tangible and clear, giving her a strong sense of security. Be reliable as Big Ben chiming on the hour, and become one of the few things in her life she can count on as being unchanging and regular.”
Not always exciting, I know. So if you can throw a little magic in there, so much the better. But business as usual means, among other things, consistent. And when inconsistency seems epidemic, showing itself in so many people and in so many ways, there are worse things, I guess, than being predictable.
I’d love for Renee to be entertained. I know she needs to be safe. If she can be both, great. But the tux, last time I checked, doesn’t fit anymore, so I’ll sign off for now. I’ve got homework to do.